COLUMBUS — Gov. Mike DeWine acknowledges the risks of reopening college campuses, but he said the state’s private and public colleges and universities are up for the challenge.
The governor’s remarks followed Thursday’s announcement of state coronavirus guidance and more federal funding for Ohio’s colleges and universities Thursday.
The minimum standards are designed to “continue to educate our students and prevent the spread of COVID-19,” DeWine said. The plan does not include any sweeping rules for how to hold courses, but it does recommend campuses “utilize remote learning opportunities where practicable.”
The Controlling Board is also being asked Monday to approve granting $200 million in federal CARES Act funds to public and private universities and colleges, DeWine said. That’s in addition to direct federal funds already provided to the state’s colleges.
DeWine’s announcement of additional funds was welcome news to higher education leaders across the state. The money will help ensure safety on college campuses this fall, they said.
DeWine cautioned that reopening college campuses would not be easy, and acknowledged the challenges of congregate living in dorms, students in classrooms, and the desire among young people to socialize.
“We’re going to have to see how this works out,” the governor said. “And colleges are going to make their own decisions; they’re going to look at this.”
The state plan calls for all campus employees to wear a facial covering as a minimum standard. Campuses must provide written justification for why a mask is not required. The guidelines recommend all students wear a facial covering in most settings, but stops short of a mandate. However, campuses must comply with all relevant state and CDC guidelines, which could include a mask mandate if a campus falls within a Level 3, “red” county.
Campuses must also require all employees to conduct daily health assessments including temperature checks and symptom-monitoring, the state guidelines said.
The state recommends phased campus reopening based on necessity and risk, with an opportunity for administrators to review and adapt at each interval.
The plan also suggests “de-densifying” campus living arrangements to the greatest extent possible and encourages colleges to develop a plan for campus quarantine and isolation space.
“I’ve been impressed with our colleges in Ohio, their preparation for this, what they’re doing for this,” DeWine said. “They know, quite candidly, that they have to sell this to parents and to students, that they are providing the safest environment they can provide on campus.”
Many Ohio colleges have already been communicating their fall plans, including adjusted semester calendars that send students home before the Thanksgiving holiday.
Ohio State University is preparing for a return to campus this fall, but classes will combine both in-person and online methods. Ohio University estimates 50% to 60% of courses will be face-to-face, with labs, experiential learning and hands-on courses taking priority.
Students, faculty, staff and others at Ohio State will be required to wear masks indoors and participate in daily health checks, where they must report their body temperature and health state through the university’s mobile app or website.
College leaders across the state thanked DeWine this week for his commitment to higher education.
“As the university continues its phased return to on-campus operations, the state guidance and additional CARES Act funding announced (Thursday) will help support the continued academic and professional success of the university’s students, faculty and staff,” Ohio State University said in a prepared statement.
The state plan for higher education “includes best practices that will enable Ohio University to continue to provide a high-quality educational experience for our students with health and safety top-of-mind,” Ohio University President M. Duane Nellis said in a statement.
The additional funds will help lead the economy forward by ensuring access to education, said Ohio Association of Community Colleges President Jack Hershey.
“With these new resources, Ohio’s community colleges will be able to help defray costs related to the pandemic and return to what we have historically done for millions of students and employers — prepare them to thrive,” Hershey said in a written statement.